One day, I was telling my residents at the Jewish Association on Aging about Shemini Atzeret. I said one of the reasons that this holiday is not well-known is that its name is hard to say for English-speaking people.
Chanukah is easy (although they pronounce it “Hanukah”). Passover is easy. But Shemini Atzeret is hard. We should have a name that is easier to say and to understand.
One of my residents suggested: How about the “Grand Finale”?
That was a pretty good answer. After all, it is the end of the holiday season (although outside of Israel, we celebrate one more day, Simchat Torah).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch found within the name of this holiday an explanation of how it really is a finale. “Atzeret,” he writes, comes from the words “to gather.” In other words, we gather up all of the feelings of gratitude, insights and devotion we have accrued during these Holy Holidays and carry them with us into the new year.
We are not the same people that we were before. We have heard the lofty sentiments expressed in the rabbis’ sermons on Rosh Hashanah, the Shabbat of Repentance and Yom Kippur, calling us to repent and improve. We have heard the awe-inspiring sound of the shofar urging, “Awake you sleepers from your slumber … ” Our emotions have been stirred by the symbolism of tashlich, the melody of Kol Nidrei and the climactic moment of Ne’ila. And we have been moved by recalling our loved ones at Yizkor.
Shemini Atzeret is the end, and it urges us to consider entering the new year with the new attitude we have learned over these weeks. To begin again with a new determination.
Indeed, it can be and should be a Grand Finale. Shabbat Shalom and chag sameach! PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.